President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned Anthony Levandowski, a former Google and Uber engineer and self-driving car expert who was sentenced to 18 months in prison in August 2020 for stealing trade secrets from Google.
Levandowski pioneered self-driving car technology at Google and made millions. He quit the company to found Otto, a self-driving truck startup that he sold to ride-hailing giant Uber in 2016 for an estimated $680 million. A year later, Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo sued Uber alleging that Levandowski had taken thousands of Google files, including confidential product designs, with him before he left.
The companies eventually settled when Uber offered Waymo nearly $250 million in stock and agreed not to violate the company’s intellectual property.
But in August 2019, federal prosecutors charged Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft. In March last year, Levandowski pleaded guilty to one count of trade secrets theft and admitted to downloading thousands of internal Google documents onto his personal computer. In addition to the 18-month sentence, he was also ordered to pay a $95,000 fine and $756,500 in restitution. A judge agreed to let Levandowski stay out of prison until the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good,” the White House said in a statement on the final day of Trump's presidency announcing the pardon along with dozens of others. The White House called Levandowski “an American entrepreneur who led Google’s efforts to create self-driving technology.”
Among the people supporting the pardon are Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, a longtime Trump supporter, and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, who once donated money to a pro-Trump nonprofit associated with the alt-right.
A Waymo spokesperson declined to comment on Levandowski’s pardon. Uber did not respond to a request for comment.